With Spring Training approaching, MLB.com is taking an in-depth look at the 2019 Rays, breaking the team down position-by-position. In this installment, we are focusing on the starting rotation.
There is no question who will take the mound when the Rays open the 2019 campaign at home against the Houston Astros on March 28. Blake Snell won the American League Cy Young Award in 2018 and established himself as one of the best pitchers in the Major Leagues.
Most of the responsibility will fall on Snell in 2019, but the 26-year-old left-hander has showed no signs of slowing down. In fact, he expects to get even better.
Just moments after winning the Cy Young Award, Snell jumped on a conference call with reporters and immediately said that his focus was on improving in 2019. Initially, it's difficult to see how a pitcher can do much better than what Snell was able to accomplish in his breakout campaign, but Snell, who has proven to be detail-oriented, believes that he can improve on his numbers, especially by cutting down the amount of walks.
The one knock on Snell's Cy Young resume was that he pitched just 180 2/3 innings last season. One of his goals is to reach the 200-inning mark, in part, by limiting the walks and keeping his pitch count low. Snell had a career-high 64 walks in 2018, but faced 153 more batters than he did in '17.
Set starters: Snell, Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow
While Snell is the unquestioned leader of the staff, he'll have more help behind him in the rotation in 2019.
Glasnow, who was acquired from Pittsburgh on July 31 in the deal that sent Chris Archer to the Pirates, showed flashes of why he was one of the top prospects in baseball and has a rotation spot locked up. His fastball-curveball combination is lethal and his slider proved to be a big weapon, as opposing batters hit just .037 off the pitch in 2018. He did, however, struggle giving up the long ball, as the 25-year-old right-hander gave up 10 home runs over the last two months of the season.
Morton, on the other hand, was a big free-agent acquisition for the Rays. The 35-year-old signed a two-year, $30 million dollar deal in December and the team expects him to be the No. 2 starter. Morton will provide some veteran leadership for a young staff that has aspirations of pitching in October.
The "bulk" guys: Jalen Beeks, Yonny Chirinos, Jake Faria, Wilmer Font, Ryan Yarbrough
The Rays have multiple options for building their rotation and bullpen heading into 2019. If Beeks, Chirinos, Faria, Font or Yarbrough have a strong spring, the Rays could elect to head into the season with a four-man rotation, which is similar to what they had planned for last season with Archer, Nathan Eovaldi, Snell and Faria.
Font, who was acquired from the Athletics on May 25, pitched well with the Rays and was on his way to earning a spot in the rotation before a lat strain ended his season on June 29. In five starts, Font gave up just four runs in 21 innings, including giving up just one run in 10 innings pitched against the Yankees. Chirinos and Faria also got starting opportunities in 2018, but both struggled to find consistency and were sidelined by injuries. Chirinos opened his career by tossing 14 1/3 scoreless innings, while Faria never got going, but the Rays are hoping he's a bounce-back candidate in 2019.
Yarbrough led all rookies with 16 wins, mostly following an opener, and despite allowing a 26.9 hard-hit percentage, he finished with a respectable 4.19 FIP in 2018. Beeks struggled in his last few outings, finishing with a 5.51 ERA.
Depth: Jose De Leon, Brent Honeywell, Andrew Moore, Austin Pruitt
Most of the depth comes from the guys listed above, but the Rays could have a couple more options as the season progresses. Both De Leon and Honeywell are recovering from Tommy John surgery, but the club expects them to contribute at some point in 2019. Both are highly regarded prospects, with Honeywell ranked as the Rays' top pitching prospect and No. 3 overall, according to MLB Pipeline.
Moore, who was acquired in the deal that sent Alex Colome and Denard Span to Seattle, finished with a 3.85 ERA over 133 1/3 innings in Triple-A last season.